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One day, I just started running…
Let’s begin by getting one thing straight; cycling is my passion – it has changed my life – it defines me – it is what I do whenever I can and I would never be without it. But, even the most hardcore of rule #9 devotees would accept that there are times when it’s more practical to get your daily fitness fix another way; especially in winter. It was this realisation that led me to start running – an activity so rewarding and addictive in its own right that I know consider myself both a runner and a cyclist (but, let’s be clear; I’m a cyclist first and foremost).
Having a full time job and the usual domestic commitments, it’s often hard to fit a workout in. Fortunately, a long time ago, I realised that there is as much useful time available before work as there is after. In turn this has made me into a confirmed fan of the early morning - when my schedule demands.
The Best Part of the Day…
Four thirty AM; what a unique time of day that is – close enough to midnight to feel like the middle of the night, yet close enough to nine AM to feel like morning. But, before you start getting ideas of your own, know this; it’s my time – I own it.
Every evening, I tell Siri to wake me at 4:30 and every morning, he diligently strums a chord on my iPhone to kick-start my day. Sometimes though, I cheat him – killing the alarm a few minutes before it’s due to go off and robbing my little electronic concierge of that moment of glory he’s waited all night to deliver.
The legacy of several years in an ‘on-call’ job is an ability to perform a pretty rapid ‘boot up’ sequence; transitioning from sleeping like a baby to ready for action in under a minute. With the central processor online, the machine kicks in; always taking just a little longer to bring online. A full complement of 120 crunches followed by an equal amount of leg raises never fails to do the trick.
Preparation, preparation, preparation….
Stumbling around in the darkness, I’m soon dressed and ready for action. Careful planning the night before brings my full running kit fairly easily to hand. Just a few minutes later, I’m standing outside, authoritatively instructing Siri to play my running mix. As Radiohead punch Street Spirit (Fade Out) through the headphones, the heart rate creeps higher with every stride.
One mile in and I’m in just settling into my stride; the tracks in my playlist indicating my pace more accurately than any GPS tracker ever could. Track after track tick past and soon, punishing pavements give way to the trail.
Entering the dark, dark woods, I kill the tunes and fire up the Petzl. Running those dark trails in the milky beam of the head torch is an eerie and surreal experience; wind rustling through the trees above, a frequent whooshing of birds taking flight, brilliant discs of animal eyes watching warily from the undergrowth and Freddie Kruger behind every tree. Every sense is more acute, heart rate even higher (a combination of increased effort on the loose-packed trail and the mind working overtime on every shadow) and not a soul in sight. At this time of day, the woods are devoid of dog walkers, ditherers and troublesome ‘yoofs’; it’s just you, the wildlife and the trail; bliss – absolute 100% bliss.
All too soon, the soft orange glow of Sodium light signals an exit from the woods and a return to civilisation. In a way it’s comforting yet, in another way, slightly sad. Turning back onto the hardtop, the playlist kicks back in and, in no time, Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Greyhound’ is lighting my afterburners and I feel the need to push harder; to earn that recovery drink that’s waiting in the fridge for me and justify the luxury of poached eggs on toast for breakfast.
A moment for reflection…
Stopping at the paper shop to pick up the daily rag for my wife, I take a cheeky peek at the Garmin to check my progress. If I’m off the usual pace, I’ll tell myself I should have tried harder – if I’m on (or ahead), I’ll tell myself I could have done even better; had I tried. Even on the driest day, by this point my running jacket is soaked through – a mixture of perspiration and condensation. But, I bask in the knowledge that every ounce of perspiration has done me good – made me stronger – improved my pace – burned calories and set me up for the day.
Slipping quietly back indoors, my wife is still asleep – leaving me alone to indulge in a well-practiced post-run programme of stretches, push ups and….well….just revelling in how good I feel.
Ready for anything…
As my work day begins, I’m absolutely buzzing. Before the rest of the world is fully awake, I’m motivated to dig in to pieces of work I have been dreading putting together and I’m so set up for the day that, seriously, I feel like I could handle anything. As curve balls stack up in my email inbox, I get the chance to prove that too.
Unless you are an early morning exerciser, you may not understand this. But that post-workout high really does last all day. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it; a subtle blend of exhaustion, exhilaration, satisfaction and self-pride. Stronger than any drug, once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be hungry for more. It’s made even more intense if you’ve had the chance to take your exercise in the great outdoors. Running dark woodland trails may not be for everyone – but there is mile upon mile of well-lit road that will deliver just as much physical challenge and reward. Try it….just once….dare you!
This is my time…
Know this; I’m a cyclist – always will be. But, on those dark and cold winter mornings when the sun still lingers well below the horizon, simply lacing up my trainers and hitting the trails rewards completely. 4:30 AM. It’s my time; I own it and, alone on the trails, some mornings I could actually believe that!